At the TCA’s: HBO’s Anthology Series Room 104

The TCA’s gave HBO a chance to share their new anthology series, “Room 104” from frequent collaborators Jay and Mark Duplass. Filmmakers behind the half-hour series had just one rule – every episode must take place entirely in Room 104 of an ordinary American chain motel. The diverse range of writers and directors created half-hour installments that run the spectrum from drama to uncomfortable comedy, to chilling horror. The point is to make the viewer always be wondering – what happens next?

This panel included creators and executive producers Jay and Mark Duplass, and directors Sarah Adina Smith, and Marta Cunningham. 

For Mark Duplass, it was a dream come to true to be able to “be weird” while having HBO give them the money to do it with.

So how does this anthology create some consistent quality and intensity – and why didn’t they do it all themselves?

Jay Duplass offered, “We were inviting a certain level of diversity in story-telling that we honestly could not have done on our own, and it is because, you know, we are setting literally every episode in the same very small hotel room, and we are looking for as much diversification as possible.”

Added Mark Duplass, “If we had directed all the episodes, they would look all the same. It would get boring pretty quickly.”

“(On) your average television show, you have showrunners like us, and you have these episodic runners that are essentially like babysitters, and the showrunners are over their shoulders constantly, dictating the vision. This show is very, very different. Jay and I are busy,” Mark Duplass said. “We do a lot of different things. We were interested in collaborating, so we would write these episodes. We would give them to the directors. They would give us notes based upon the first draft. I rewrote for them specifically. Sometimes they would offer rewrite ideas. Then the cast would come in, we would rewrite some more. And, really, they went and ran and made their own little short films from it. So, yes, your actors were really good. But these guys did a ton of authorship. Much more than the average episodic television directing gig.”

That unique relationship between the collaborators has worked out to make “Room 104” that is creative despite the restrictions of happening entirely in one room.

One of the directors, Sarah Adina Smith (Episode 1 – “Ralphie” and Episode 3 – “The Knockandoo”) said, “ I think, for me, it was like an incredible opportunity, really, to start with those restrictions. And it feels like a testament to the writing that as long as this story is really interesting, and you are on that journey with the characters, it doesn’t matter how big your stage is. It can be a box, or it can be the whole world. It really doesn’t matter.”

HBO’s “Room 104” debuts July 28th and airs Fridays at 11:30 pm Eastern.